Deb Croucher shares an overview of what she’s learned in 20 years of working with the ever-evolving area of SEO.
When we talk about search engine optimisation, or SEO, what we are referring to is getting your website optimised so that it comes up in the free Google search. Yes, there have been many search engines over the years, and there will be many more, but Google is the one that has outlasted everyone and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. So, for the purpose of this article, when we refer to search engines, we will be referring to Google.
There’s been a reversal of the 80:20 ratio between technology and human behaviour. Back in the early days of the internet, getting your website to the front page of Google was relatively easy using a lot of technical skills. If you had the technical know-how – how to structure a website, what keywords to place in certain spots on the page, how to be generous with your metatags, how to manage your load times – you could absolutely get your website to the top of page one.
Then along came Google algorithms, and if you were tech savvy, you could manipulate those through the use of some dodgy content and still come out on top. In those days, the search engines would determine their rankings using about 80% tech data and the remaining 20% of the data would come from the human element we call the ‘user experience’.
This 20% of user experience data would be pulled from how people used the websites: what they did when they landed, how they moved around the site, how many pages they looked at and how long they spent on each page. As a result of that 80-20 balance, there were a lot of truly awful websites at the top of the Google rankings.
Twenty years later, the percentages have completely reversed. In an effort to prevent people from manipulating their ranking systems and subjecting us to horrifying images like that above, search engines have placed human behaviour and user experience at the forefront of their ranking profiles.
And website design companies need to follow suit.
For us these days, tech is only 20% of the work we do to get a website to the top of Google and earn lots of free traffic.
80% of our work goes into the critical area of content user experience and monitoring human behaviour on websites.
Once we’ve got the technical component right, it shouldn’t be a huge investment – in either time or money – to keep it right. It’s not where the bulk of your SEO budget should be spent anymore.
The tech side is still important – you may want to add new content or update part of your site.
You might have links breaking or URLs changing, and an ongoing tech budget is strongly advisable, but it still shouldn’t make up the bulk of your SEO spend.
Your SEO spend should be around user experience and user value.
You need to know who your market is and what they want to read.
Your posts should include genuinely helpful information. As a user, I want to be able to find what I want. I want the site to load quickly so I’m not waiting around. I want to be able to navigate the site easily. Essentially, the website’s design, look and feel need to be right for me, your target customer.
Every time you lay down another layer of this solid information in the format your market wants, your website rises up another ranking on Google for another keyword. That means more and more free, organic traffic comes your way.
Content and user experience are now the drivers of SEO, not technology.
The internet is not a static environment. Over 90% of the content on the internet has been created in the last two years alone.
With the invention of social media there has been an explosion of platforms and these will continue to expand and grow, as different places are created for people to view different types of content.
Traffic coming through to your website from social media is generally of low quality. Users coming through are not as interested; they are less engaged in the search process. Often, they’ve been browsing social media and just clicked on a link. They are not necessarily in a buying mood or looking for anything in particular. They tend not to stay very long on your site and they don’t look at many pages. This is a low-quality lead.
We are not saying you should ignore social media – far from it! Social media is a great tool for marketing your business. It’s just that if you dedicate it as your primary marketing platform, you might well be disappointed in the return on investment.
When we compare social media statistics to those of Google, we find that traffic coming to your website from a free Google search always stays longer, users always look at more pages and they are far more likely to buy.
This is because when we search on Google, we are more actively engaged in the search process. We have taken the time to type in a search for a particular product/service and are invested in looking at the results. We are in buying mode. Most people trust what Google says for the free searches, so if we find what we are looking for, then research shows we are much more likely to do something about it. We are more likely to order something or pick up the phone – following the call to action on the website.
YouTube is owned by Google. That means that if you were to record a video about SEO, like the one at the top of this page, and put it up on YouTube, there is every chance that someone googling SEO would find your video on page one of Google. This is really valuable to your SEO ranking. By embedding YouTube videos in your website, you can positively affect SEO and your Google ranking. Leveraging video in your digital marketing is a much underutilised key for SEO growth.
In terms of marketing, social media is a bit like footsteps in the sand. You spend a lot of time creating something and posting it, but within a very short time frame – sometimes hours, sometimes minutes – it becomes old news. By tomorrow, it will be gone. It is true that some campaigns go viral, but sadly most do not.
Social Media marketing is great for getting your name out there, but it really does eat the time you put in, as you are constantly having to reinvest time and money to keep it current.
The good thing about investing in your website is that you own the platform. You control what goes on your website and how long it stays there. The beauty of investing in Google and SEO is that as your content stays on your website, it continues to add to your SEO. It continues to generate traffic for your site through Google today, tomorrow, next week and next year.
We see it like renting property versus buying property.
Social media will give you the quick wins but Google is still best for long-term business growth. That hasn’t changed. In the 20 years I’ve been in this industry, working either on my own businesses or those of other people, it hasn’t changed. Google is still the number one place to grow a long-term sustained digital footprint.
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